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Food Allergies Key Points For Caterers

Food Allergies Key Points For Caterers

Allergic reactions to food can be life threatening.  In Britain, there are about six reported deaths each year due to food induced allergic reaction or anaphylaxis.  Most of these fatal reactions are triggered by food eaten out.

What is anaphylaxis?

This is a severe reaction affecting the whole body usually within minutes.

Any or all of the following symptoms may be present:

  • swelling of the throat and mouth affecting swallowing, breathing and speaking
  • hives anywhere on the body and generalised flushing of the skin
  • abdominal cramps, nausea and vomiting, sudden weakness which may cause collapse or unconsciousness

What foods are involved?

The most common culprits are peanuts, walnuts, brazils, almonds and hazelnuts

Other foods which sometimes cause severe reactions are eggs, dairy products, sesame seeds and other seeds, shellfish, soya and pulses.

For some people only tiny traces of a particular food are needed to cause anaphylaxis.

Guidance for caterers and managers

  • a nominated person on duty must know all the ingredients of all menu dishes
  • all staff must be trained and know who the nominated person to ask for advice
  • suppliers must provide accurate written details about all ingredients
  • avoid the indiscriminate use of nuts for example as a garnish
  • where dishes contain nuts reflect this in the name
  • keep preparation areas and equipment designated as nut free
  • put a menu statement and prominent signs encouraging people to question staff

Guidance for serving staff

  • any customer claiming to have a food allergy must be taken seriously
  • approach the manager's nominated person if you need advice
  • never bluff, if you can not answer the question get the right advice
  • if asked to change a meal because it contains nuts, it is not enough just to remove any visible nuts, as the tiny traces may be enough to cause a severe reaction
  • make sure foods containing nuts do not touch other nut free foods

Guidance for cooking and preparation staff

  • cooking in unrefined groundnut oil (peanut oil) may leave traces of nuts in the food
  • any oil that has been used to cook products containing nuts may pick up nut traces
  • if preparing allergen free food beware of transferring traces from one dish to another
  • salad dressings may be made from unrefined nut oil, check the label
  • hands, utensils and work surfaces should be washed scrupulously after handling foods containing potential allergens.

What to do in an emergency?

  • If an allergic customer becomes ill, it is likely that they or someone with them , will know they are suffering from an allergic reaction.
  • Immediately send someone to dial 999 and say:

"it is an emergency......a customer has collapsed.......we think they have a food allergy"

If you are a food business we also have a leaflet entitled "Advice for caterers on allergy and intolerance" which we can forward to you.

You can also find further information on the Food Standards Agency Site 

If you require any further information please contact the Food and Safety Team 


Last updated 7 January 2016

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